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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Coffee Culture

Coffee consumption in North America is not just a habit, it has become an integral part of our culture.

According to the Canadian government, 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed in Canada every year and coffee is the most popular hot beverage and the number-one foodservice beverage in the country.

Until recently, most of us considered coffee consumption to be a vice. But recent studies are demonstrating that coffee itself is actually a nutrition superstar and is associated with a host of health benefits including a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, and prostate cancer.

It is not coffee that is unhealthy, it's what we add to it and some of the associated rituals that are really the problem.

Those tempting blended drinks at cafes and coffee chains take what is a virtually fat and calorie free beverage on it's own and load it up full of fat, sugar and calories. These drinks usually range from 150 cals (for a skinny, smaller version) to upwards of 500 calories and should really be considered a snack or full meal, rather than a beverage.

And if you feel the need to pair your coffee with a commercially-made muffin, donut, scone or cookie, you are likely adding another 300-500 cals to your coffee break and consuming close to half your daily recommended energy intake containing little more than refined flour, sugar and saturated fat.

People who make a habit of smoking a cigarette with their coffee, well, obviously this is not a smart move! 'Nuff said.

But even the Canadian "double double" tradition (i.e. two sugars and two creams) is not the best way to consume coffee. Particularly if you have multiple coffees every day. The fat and calories from this add up real quick. And don't forget, liquid calories do little to satiate hunger.

If you think you need to buy your coffee from a cafe or coffee shop every day in order to get a good cup, you are wrong, and spending way too much money!

You can make a great cup of coffee or espresso at home if you use a great coffee, fresh water and a good quality coffee maker.

DO NOT underestimate the importance of a good coffee maker. Case in point: On Sunday I grabbed the caraffe from my P.C. coffee maker and proceeded to slip on the kitchen floor, falling and shattering the caraffe, and cutting my hand and toe on the broken glass. Yes I am a clutsy numbskull!

So I dug up the old coffee maker I had that I used to keep at my office in my last office job. Yesterday morning when my coffee was ready, I noticed the usual delectable aroma was not present in the kitchen. I poured my mug full and took a sip and almost PUKED. Same coffee, same water as usual, but different coffee maker.

I thought maybe it was because the coffee maker needed a cleaning, but even after multiple cleanings with vinegar and then plain, fresh water, this coffee maker produces a vile product. I have called President's Choice to see if I can get a new caraffe, but if not, I am buying a whole new machine because this one SUCKS.

The lesson is: You may have to experiment with coffee makers (no, don't go buy 4 different coffee makers, but go to a store where they know their stuff and ask the experts for advice or check out product reviews online to find a good one), water (tap vs filtered, etc.) and brands of coffee before you find a combo that works for you, but it is so worth it. Much more convenient and cost-efficient than always having to go out!

Here are af few tips for getting the most (and the least in terms of fat and calories!) from your coffee habit.

*Drink drip coffee or espresso black and unsweetened or with low-fat milk (1% or skim) and a healthy sugar alternative(Splenda, Xylitol, stevia, etc.)
*Skip blended drinks made with whipped cream,chocolate and sugar syrups
*Avoid coffee "creamer" which is essentially sugar, corn syrup and trans fats
*If you don't consume dairy but can't drink your coffee black, try non-dairy milks (soy, rice, almond, hemp, coconut, etc.) that are unsweetened
*When out at cafes, if you must pair your coffee with a sweet at break time, at least choose a lower calorie and fat option like biscotti (preferably not dipped in chocolate or other high-fat coating) instead of cookies, cake, scones or muffins.
*If you are sensitive to caffeine, choose a decaf option (still has health benefits!) that is swiss-water processed instead of decaffeinated using harsh chemicals.

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